New figures show that government funding increases have massively favoured private schools over public schools in the ACT. Despite much rhetoric about its support for public schools, the ACT Government has cut funding for public schools since 2009. It even cut its funding during the Gonski funding period, after agreeing to increase it.
The new figures published last month by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (adjusted here for rising costs) reveal that the ACT Government has taken the opportunity of increased Commonwealth Government funding to cut its own funding of public schools.
Total government (Commonwealth and ACT) funding for public schools, adjusted for inflation, was cut by $154 per student between 2009 and 2016. In contrast, funding for Catholic schools increased by $1,335 per student and for Independent schools by $480 per student.
The funding cut to public schools was due to a large cut by the ACT Government of $410 per student which more than offset an increase in Commonwealth funding of $255 per student. Yet, the ACT Government increased funding for Catholic schools by $220 per student.
The cuts to public schools were even greater during the Gonski funding period of 2013-2016 despite the ACT Government signing up to the Gonski plan. Total government funding for public schools, adjusted for inflation, was cut by $606 per student compared to an increase of $879 per student in Catholic schools and a small cut of $76 per student in Independent schools.
Again, the cut to public schools was due to a large cut in funding by the ACT Government of $660 per student. It was the biggest cut made by any government during the Gonski period except for the Northern Territory. At the same time, it increased its funding of Catholic schools by $221 per student, which was the biggest increase provided by any government in this period.
The ACT Government has clearly reneged on its Gonski agreement. Under the agreement that the then Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, signed with the Commonwealth Government in 2013, the ACT Government committed to increasing its current funding effort by 3 per cent a year and to put in another $22 million beyond this over six years.
The expectation was for a small increase in the real resources for public schools. This has not happened. ACT Government funding of public schools has not even kept pace with rising costs; instead of increasing real resources in public schools they have been cut.
Catholic schools in the ACT are vociferous in their complaints about inadequate government funding. Yet, they have had a great deal – better than any other sector. Their total government funding per student, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 20 per cent since 2009 compared to 8.4 per cent for Independent schools and a cut of 1.3 per cent to public schools.
Catholic schools are massively over-funded at 139 per cent of their Schooling Resource Standard. The Commonwealth Government has also given them another special deal of an additional $36.1 million to 2027 beyond the planned increase under the new Commonwealth funding arrangements. Catholic schools have nothing to complain about, especially compared to public schools.
In cutting funding to public schools, the ACT Government has failed disadvantaged students, over 80% of whom attend public schools. High inequality in school results between students from rich and poor families is a constant feature in the ACT.
The latest NAPLAN results show that Year 9 students from low SES families are 2-3 years behind their high SES peers. Indigenous students are 3-4 years behind. The OECD’s PISA 2015 results show that the achievement gap between rich and poor in the ACT is only exceeded by that in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
We have to do better. Low education achievement by a significant proportion of young people has far reaching individual, social and economic costs. It stunts individual lives and it brings higher health, social welfare and crime costs. It also stunts economic growth and prosperity.
The ACT is essentially a knowledge-based economy dependent on education improvement for its continuing prosperity. An underperforming education system means an underperforming economy.
Next week’s Budget is an opportunity to redress the Government’s long neglect of public schools. The Minister for Education has been going through a long consultation process on the future of education in the ACT, but it will come to nothing without a major funding boost for disadvantaged students and schools.